Monster 796

Ducati’s lightweight 796 completely enamored us during our 2011 Ducati Monster 796 First Ride review from Italy. Was it the fact that we were riding the bike on the Italian marque’s home turf or because it was it the perfect companion during the ridiculously awesome 2010 WDW – World Ducati Week motorcycle rally? Whatever the reason, the entry-level Ducati Monster proved to be a friendly and engaging street bike to pilot around the narrow streets of Italy.

One of the biggest attributes of the 796 is its size. Not only does it weigh just 421 pounds with a full 3.8 gallon tank of fuel (a whopping 65 lbs. less than the Aprilia) it offers a short seat that measures 31.5 inches off the ground. This is 0.4 inches lower than the Shiver’s. Furthermore, its narrow engine and steel-trellis chassis configuration add to its compactness which makes it the obvious choice for smaller riders.

The 796’s cockpit feels slightly more spacious as compared to the Shiver. Reach to the handlebar felt equally as short as the Shiver but the seat-to-footpeg relation was a bit roomier We also observed that the handlebar is positioned lower and more forward than the Shiver’s which equates to a more assertive riding position. We wouldn’t necessarily deem it uncomfortable, but it isn’t quite as versatile as the Shiver. Instrumentation consists of a small white-backlit LCD display that is easy to read day and night. The various functions including trip meters and ABS on/off functionality can be adjusted with the handlebar mounted button.

Thumb the starter button and the fuel-injected engine barks right to life. At idle, the exhaust note has that classic Ducati growl which registered in our sound decibel test with a reading of 82 dB (four points higher than the Shiver). As opposed to the Aprilia’s more high-tech liquid-cooled and ride-by-wire equipped V-Twin motor, the Monster uses a higher capacity air-cooled configuration measuring 803cc. It also utilizes simpler two-valve cylinder heads instead of the four-valve setup on the Aprilia.

Right off idle, the Ducati’s engine delivers superior torque. Only problem is that its tall drive sprocket gearing necessitates more clutch slip to get moving from a stop. Making matters worse is the toothpick-narrow engagement range of the hydraulic clutch not to mention how grabby and disconnected it feels from the engine. We did however appreciate how light the lever action is as well as the back torque limiting feature during fast deceleration.

Even though the engine is cruder in terms of design it delivers healthy acceleration – enough to keep experienced riders occupied but not so much as to overwhelm a newer rider. At lower rpm you can feel how lean the engine runs with it surging forward when the throttle is initially cracked. The lean fuel condition eventually sorts itself out as rpms increase. Even still, the 796 is in need of a fuel injection re-map right off the showroom floor.

Looking at the dyno chart shows a dip in the torque curve. It starts out strong initially but falls off from 3000 to 4000 revs before regaining momentum again from 5500 rpm on. Horsepower wise, the curve is much smoother but still not as linear as the Aprilia’s.

As the saying goes, “there is no replacement for displacement” and accordingly the 53cc larger engine just edges out the Aprilia with a peak horsepower number of nearly 77 ponies arriving at 8100 rpm. The difference in max torque is more substantial with the Duc cranking out 6 lb-ft more en route to its peak of 52.95 at 6500 revs. For reference this arrives 900 rpm lower than the Shiver. At low rpms the air-cooled mill vibrates substantially more than the Shiver but as rpms increase to around 6K it smooths out. The extra displacement hurt the Monster slightly at the fuel pump with it averaging slightly less MPG (35).

The engine’s versatile powerband works well with the gear ratios inside the transmission even with the tall final drive gearing. But the gearbox has a loose feel to it similar to all other Ducati street and sportbikes we’ve tested recently. There is considerable slop at the gear shift lever and in addition to missing shifts, the transmission would occasionally pop out of gear. Neutral was also occasionally difficult to find at a stoplight and a few times when you found it the dash indicator failed to illuminate.

Dip the Monster into a corner and it steers with minimal effort. It almost feels like a scooter (good thing) in terms of how agile it is. The bike feels like it has a lower center of gravity as compared to the Shiver which further enhances low-speed handling. This gives the rider confidence to zoom through traffic. At higher speeds the chassis delivers just the right amount of flex which allows the rider to get comfortable with the handling of the bike at speed. The suspension is definitely oriented for lighter and/or slower riders but still it provides an acceptable level of damping even when ridden aggressively. Overall ride quality is also good even on rough pavement. The Monster comes fitted with Pirelli Diablo Rosso tires which complement the chassis well with plenty of grip for spirited canyon riding. Learn more about the tires in the Pirelli Diablo Rosso Tire Comparison Review.

Braking hardware consists of twin 320mm diameter rotors that are squeezed by radial-mount Brembo four-piston calipers. The rear brake consists of a 245mm rotor with Brembo twin-piston caliper. Both brakes are powered through stainless-steel lines which ensures consistent and fade-free brake feel. One feature that the Ducati offers is anti-lock braking on both the front and rear brakes. By default the system is activated when the bike is started but it can be disabled by navigating through the LCD menu system. We preferred riding with the system off but wouldn’t hesitate to enable it when riding on slippery surfaces.

In spite of the sloppy transmission, tall final drive gearing and vague-feeling clutch we still enjoy riding the Monster. It’s a fun and easy to maneuver bike that carries some of the legendary characteristics of the Ducati brand including its charismatic air-cooled engine and tough urban stance. But the biggest thing that holds it back in this comparison is its $9995 MSRP which is almost $1000 more than the Aprilia.